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Security - the Number One Issue in Foreign Policy

Security - the Number One Issue in Foreign Policy

Sunday 2 Jun 2002 Richard Prebble Speeches -- Foreign Affairs & Defence

Speech by Hon Richard Prebble, Leader ACT New Zealand

to the NZ Institute of International Affairs' National Council Meeting

in the Rankine Brown Building, Victoria University, Wellington

on Saturday 1st June, 2002 at 2pm

New Zealand's foreign policy under both National and Labour has lacked any coherent intellectual framework. This is because both old parties have been unwilling to ask some tough questions, and have lacked the will to prioritise.

ACT is a party of influence in foreign affairs, because our foreign policy has a firm intellectual framework and we have asked the tough questions. ACT has practical, workable solutions to the real issues facing New Zealand.


The first duty of the state is to provide security - both external and internal. The first tough question is this - is Helen Clark's analysis that we live in an `incredibly benign' part of the world, correct? Or is the Australian analysis correct that there are significant, if low-probability, security risks in our region?

We live in the same region of the world as Australia. One or other of the security views must be wrong. The difference can be seen from the recent budgets of Australia and New Zealand - only one week apart. Australia's budget made security the number one issue.

In the New Zealand budget, defence did not get a mention, and the forward budget projections show that the commitment to rebuild our defence capabilities has been shelved.

I know it has become popular to be anti-Australian. But I believe Australia's security analysis is correct.

September 11 shows the Helen Clark analysis of a `no threats' world to be wrong. It seems to me there is a possibility, albeit low, that Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, could get caught up in the sort of religious fundamentalism that is behind the events of September 11. The Indonesian navy has 118 ships, they have an air force.

New threats such as people smuggling could reach our seas. There is also the possibility of an island state becoming a rogue criminal state. That has nearly happened in the Solomons, and in Vanuatu. We have seen island states lending themselves to being tax-free havens for the banks that wash the money that finances international crime, and perhaps finances terrorism.

We have seen three coups in Fiji. A civil war in the Solomons, fighting in Vanuatu, unrest in New Caledonia, an assassination of a Minister in Samoa. It is clear that Tonga's present constitutional arrangements have a limited shelf life.

Corruption in the Pacific states is a very serious problem that is eroding their economic prosperity, undermining the democratic process and causing instability. New Zealand's political correctness has prevented us from taking a lead on these issues.

New Zealand politicians prefer to engage in diplomacy that ensures New Zealand gets support from up to 15 Pacific states in the elections for official positions in the Commonwealth, World Trade Organisation and the United Nations.

In the Commonwealth, the Pacific countries are a big voting group. That's why Don McKinnon is Secretary General, and Denis Marshall is Secretary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Fifteen votes from the Pacific were crucial to Mike Moore obtaining what is the most influential international position ever held by a New Zealander.

Helen Clark's foreign policy is dominated by such considerations. I don't think finding prestigious new careers for our politicians should be the basis of our foreign policy. I believe the Australian analysis is correct - there are very real and significant security threats.

Once one reaches that conclusion, then the whole direction of our present foreign policy needs review.

After 14 years of non-ANZUS membership, we know that we cannot go it alone. Australia has repeatedly told us that it cannot provide the assistance we need for a credible defence force.

New Zealand is surrounded by more water than any other country, yet the Labour government has decided we do not need an air force, is downgrading the navy to a coast guard, and is spending money on the army. The largest defence expenditure is for LAV 3 armounred personal carriers, designed to assist in a war on the Northern German plains.

The world has one Super Power. The Pacific is dominated by the Seventh Fleet. New Zealand is still legally a member of an alliance that many nations can only dream about belonging to.

ACT says New Zealand should rejoin ANZUS and this is our number one defence and foreign policy objective. Not only is ANZUS the only credible way to rebuild our defence capability, but ANZUS membership also gives New Zealand an influence in the world capital that really matters - Washington.

We believe that the foreign policy nightmare of Australia achieving a free trade agreement with the US - and New Zealand being left out - would not even be a possibility if we were ANZUS partners.

Helen Clark is in a fence-mending visit to Australia. I see commentators saying that the ANZAC relationship is under stress because of the Rugby World Cup, because of the collapse of Ansett. Nonsense. The very name, ANZAC, gives us the answers.

New Zealand's unique relationship with Australia is built on a common defence policy. The understanding has been that when the chips are down, we will stand together. Australia has asked us to guard its back door - the Pacific. We have agreements under which we will patrol the Pacific right up to Polynesia.

Abolishing the air strike capability, cancelling an agreement to buy a third ANZAC frigate, and Helen Clark's alleged plan to scrap the Orions - nothing is secret in New Zealand - we all know the former head of Defence had to threaten to resign to keep the Orions.

Yes - and our refusal to tighten our immigration law to prevent back-door entry to Australia. It is defence policy that real fence-mending is needed.

Cabinet Ministers privately complain that their Australian counterparts are not interested in advancing CER issues. Why should they? We are ignoring their priorities. Rejoining ANZUS if the only way to mend the ANZAC relationship.

The nuclear issue is a Cold War red herring. No US naval ships carry nuclear weapons. Nuclear propulsion is also a red herring. The Somers Report found there was no risk, and the occasional visit by a nuclear-power ship is a small price to pay for real security.

Our trade priority is free trade. But for the Greens, one would have thought the case was obvious. A survey of leading US economists found the one thing they nearly all agreed on was the benefits of free trade. New Zealand should pursue free trade at every level. At the current trade round, at multi-lateral forums, bi-lateral trade deals and CER.

ACT also opposes dangerous nonsense like including the Treaty of Waitangi in trade agreements.

ACT has offered Labour our votes to out-vote the Greens, to ratify trade treaties. As a party in Parliament, ACT does not do deals. So our support for defence and trade is not conditional on quid pro quos. While other parties have leveraged themselves more power by deal making, it has been at the expense of their credibility. It is part of the reason of the failure of NZ First, the disintegration of the Alliance and will destroy the Green Party.

ACT has preferred to make progress by influence, the intellectual integrity of our ideas, and our willingness to lead. The US Ambassador has observed to me that they noticed the first party to publicly state that New Zealand must join the war against terrorism after September 11, was ACT.

National used that week as an occasion to say ANZUS was an anachronism, and Helen Clark visited Europe.

ACT sought to lead public opinion, and it was that public opinion, via Labour's polling, that led Labour to join the coalition against terrorism.

Now let me make a number of unconnected observations.

Matt Robson's decision to move our overseas aid away from providing tertiary scholarships for Pacific Islanders, to supporting primary schools, is doing great damage and will have long-term consequences. The reality is, the Pacific nations can already run primary schools. It's a question of priorities.

The Pacific Island nations cannot train their next generation of professionals - lawyers, doctors, scientists and leaders - they need access to our universities. New Zealand and, I think, the Islands, have benefited from generations of Pacific leaders being educated in New Zealand.

I have friends in the Pacific who I became friends with at university. Because we gave them tertiary education, they became `Kiwis' - Otago rugby and All Black fans for life.

We are forcing the next generation of Pacific leaders to go to Australia or the United States for their education. We will pay a very high price for Matt Robson's political correctness.

Next, selling embassies. I am one of the Ministers responsible for introducing more transparent government accounts - a measure that improved the scrutiny of government spending and accountability. But we should never be slaves to any system. Double entry accounting does not reflect the value of owning assets, as opposed to leasing them. It's a weakness of accounts.

When you know that you are going to need a site for generations, then you are beter off to own it. Ask the Duke of Westminster. Leasing is a false economy.

The same principle applies to the sites for key embassies in the great capitals of the world - Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo. They are rare and expensive.

For the government to sell these embassies, and then lease other premises, for balance sheet reasons, is just nuts. But then if you can pay $1 billion for an airline and then sell control for $280 million, I guess it's just another day at the office.

And my final observation is this. Unfortunately, foreign policy will not be an issue in this election. Our history shows, as it's recorded in our war memorials for all to see, that we do not take security seriously. And we pay a heavy price.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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